Hair Transplant Surgery, Cost and Procedure Guide
A hair transplant, also called hair restoration surgery, is a surgical procedure that can help you regrow hair in areas where it has been lost. Although hair loss does not cause any physical harm, it may cause distress and psychological harm.
When to consider a Hair Transplant?
You may consider having hair transplant surgery if you are experiencing:
- A receding hairline
- Thinning hair
- Hair loss
Reasons for hair loss
The medical term for hair loss is alopecia. It can affect both men and women at any age and is often a normal process of ageing. In some cases, however, there may be other causes of hair loss which can include:
- An inherited genetic condition
- An illness
- Hormonal changes (including menopause)
- Skin conditions
- Injury or burns
- A side effect of surgery
- Cancer treatment (e.g. chemotherapy)
- Weight loss
- Low levels of iron
Androgenetic Alopecia is the most common cause of hair loss that affects a large percentage of men and women. It is also called “Male Pattern Hair Loss”, “Female Pattern Hair Loss”, or Androgenic Alopecia. It is caused by a mix of genetic and hormonal factors, with Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) being the main hormone involved. This hormone causes hair loss by progressively reducing the size of the hair follicles until they disappear. The hair that is lost cannot grow back as the damage to the hair follicles is permanent.
Androgenetic Alopecia can be inherited from one or both parents, and the pattern of hair loss often differs for men and women. The severity of hair loss can also range from less noticeable hair thinning to complete baldness.
Male Pattern Hair Loss (MPHL)
Male Pattern Hair Loss typically causes men to lose hair from the top and front sides of their head, leading to the development of a receding frontal hairline. Apart from hair loss, the scalp is not affected in any other way. The hair loss usually occurs gradually over many years, although men can begin to notice the first signs at any time after puberty.
Female Pattern Hair Loss (FPHL)
Female Pattern Hair Loss usually causes widespread hair loss or hair thinning that mainly affects the top of the head. Women usually develop FPHL at a later age than men. The condition can be associated with underlying medical conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) or can occur as a result of menopause. In some cases, a doctor or hair loss specialist may need to run some tests to find out the reason for the hair loss as it may be caused by a treatable medical condition.
Alopecia Areata is a common cause of hair loss that can affect both men and women at any age. Although the exact cause of Alopecia Areata is unknown, it is believed to be brought on by an issue with the immune system. This issue makes the body attack and damage healthy hair follicles when it is not supposed to, causing hair loss.
It usually causes small patches of baldness, leading to “patchy hair loss”. This type of alopecia most commonly develops on the scalp; however, it can also develop on:
- Other parts of the body
Sometimes, larger patches of hair can be lost from specific areas, which can be called Alopecia Totalis (hair loss from the whole scalp), Alopecia Universalis (hair loss from the entire body and scalp) and Alopecia Barbae (hair loss from facial hair).
Although this condition cannot be cured, it is not permanent, and there is a high chance that the hair that’s been lost will naturally grow back without needing treatment. Due to this, most surgeons will not perform a hair transplant on patients suffering from Alopecia Areata.
Scarring Alopecias can also be called Cicatricial Alopecias. They are a rare group of disorders that produce hair loss by damaging hair follicles. In this case, however, they also scar the follicles, which can sometimes lead to a burning, painful or itchy scalp.
Scarring Alopecias can affect men and women of any age but are less commonly found in children.
Hair loss in children & teenagers
Children and teenagers can also develop premature hair loss for a number of reasons, including:
- Alopecia Areata or rarely, a type of Scarring Alopecia
- A fungal infection called Tinea Capitis (scalp ringworm)
- Pulling, plucking, twisting or rubbing hair (which can be brought on by stress or anxiety)
- An underlying medical condition
- Unhealthy nutrition and diet
Teenagers may also develop early signs of Male or Female Pattern Hair Loss that has been inherited from their parents.
Where in the UK does Medbelle provide Hair Transplants?
Although hair loss does not cause any damage to physical health, it can have quite a large impact on many people’s mental health. Because of this, both men and women search for hair loss cures, remedies and treatments to help stimulate hair growth in areas where it has been lost.
Even though there are a number of different non-surgical hair loss treatments, some people find that these remedies cannot provide the long-lasting, dramatic results that they wish to have. For this reason, more and more people consider having hair surgery to achieve an effective solution to their hair loss.
Can I have a hair transplant?
Hair transplants are most commonly used to treat Male or Female Pattern Hair Loss (Androgenetic Alopecia) or to treat hair loss as a result of injury or burns. A hair transplant cannot, however, treat Alopecia Areata.
If you have trouble with hair loss, hair thinning, or baldness, you may be suitable for a hair transplant if you:
- Are unhappy with other non-surgical hair loss treatments that you have tried or are currently using
- Have enough healthy hair in un-affected areas that can be used as donor sites for the transplant
- Have areas of healthy hair that are similar in terms of colour and texture to the missing areas
- Do not suffer from Alopecia Areata
- Are struggling with emotional or psychological distress due to your hair loss
- Are otherwise relatively fit and healthy
- Have sensible and realistic goals for surgery
Before deciding whether or not to go ahead with a hair transplant, you should consider that it may not be possible to achieve the exact results that you want from the procedure. For this reason, it is important that you have an honest conversation with your surgeon about what you would like to achieve, as they will be able to tell you if this is possible or not.
You should also consider that if you do not have a large amount of healthy hair left, you may not be able to have the surgery at all.
Is there an age limit for hair transplant surgery?
Although there are no strict age restrictions for hair transplant surgery, every surgeon and clinic has individual age limits for the procedures they offer. Many surgeons do, however, recommend that patients wait until they are at least 25 years old before having this type of surgery, especially if the cause of the hair loss is Male or Female Pattern Hair Loss.
The reason for this is based on the fact that young people’s hair loss will most likely continue as they age, and the surgeon cannot predict for sure which areas will be affected or how much hair they will lose over time. This means that they need to wait to see if the patch of healthy hair they plan on using for surgery will still be there, or as they call it, “remain stable” over the years.
If they perform the surgery too early and the area of hair they used for the transplant begins to fall out, not only will this ruin the cosmetic result of the procedure, but it may also reveal the scar that was left behind in the donor area.
Sometimes hair loss is only temporary, and your hair will grow back over time without needing treatment. In other cases, however, the hair loss may be permanent, and you may want to explore your treatment options. There are many different approaches that you can take to try to reverse the hair loss or slow down the thinning of your hair.
When seeking any type of treatment for hair loss, it is important to be patient during your hair growth treatment journey. This is because it takes time for your hair to grow as it goes through the different stages of growth.
The hair growth cycle
All the hair on your body goes through different cycles of growth over the course of your lifetime. This process is called “the hair growth cycle”, and it is made up of three main phases:
- Anagen phase – during this phase, the root of your hair (called the hair follicle) begins to grow over the course of a number of years.
- Catagen phase – after the hair follicle has finished growing, it begins to weaken.
- Telogen phase – when the follicle becomes weak enough, it falls out at this final stage. After this stage, the cycle can start again and go back to the Anagen phase.
Hair loss treatment options
Treatments for hair loss can range from non-surgical approaches such as medication to surgical options such as a hair transplant.
Some natural treatment options for hair loss and thinning can include:
- Mineral supplements such as calcium, iron, copper, chromium, iodine, zinc, and magnesium.
- Vitamins such as B vitamins (B6, B3, B5 and folic acid), vitamin A, vitamin E, biotin and Coenzyme Q10.
- Ayurvedic remedies such as Bacopa monnieri, Sesamum indicum, and Calotropis procera.
- Herbs with dihydrotestosterone (DHT) blocking activity such as Pygeum africanum, Serenoa repens, and Urtica dioica.
- Herbs with potential 5-α reductase inhibitors such as Camellia sinensis and Panax ginseng.
Patients should always check with their doctor or pharmacist before starting any natural/ herbal remedies.
Some synthetic medications that may be able to treat male and female pattern baldness include:
- Minoxidil (Rogaine): both men and women can use this.
- Finasteride (Propecia) or Dutasteride: only men should use this.
- Oral contraceptives or Spironolactone: only women should use this.
Medication or supplements may not suit everyone, and cosmetic products to cover up hair loss may be preferred. These products can include:
- A hairstyle or haircut that gives the appearance of more volume.
- Products that conceal bald areas such as hair building fibres, scalp spray thickeners, alopecia masking lotion, and topical shading.
- Hair extensions, hairpieces or wigs.
Low-level laser therapy (LLLT), also called red light therapy or cold laser therapy, involves the use of a laser comb to increase the blood flow to the area of hair loss. This increased blood flow encourages the hair to grow back. LLLT has shown to be effective in treating both male and female pattern baldness; however, as this is a relatively new treatment, its efficacy requires further medical research.
A hair transplant is a surgical operation that involves relocating hair from an area that has lots of hair to an area that is losing hair.
Donor & recipient sites
The “healthy” area of hair that has not been affected by hair loss is called the donor site, or the safe zone. The area that is experiencing hair loss or balding is called the recipient site.
Who performs your hair transplant?
Hair transplants should only be performed by a surgeon with sufficient training and experience in dermatology and surgical hair transplants.
You may find that there are clinics offering surgical hair transplants that are performed by people who aren’t trained surgeons. Having treatment with these clinics can be quite dangerous as the staff may not have surgical training, which increases the likelihood of complications occurring both before and after treatment.
How is a hair transplant procedure done?
Hair transplant surgery usually takes around two to eight hours to complete. You may also need to have more than one surgery, depending on how large the area you want to be treated is.
A hair transplant is usually carried out using local anaesthetic with sedation. This is given to you before surgery and will only numb the areas you are having treated. Although you will be awake during surgery, you should not feel any pain.
There are two main ways a hair transplant can be performed:
Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT)
Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT), also called the strip method, is a procedure that involves removing a strip of healthy skin and hair and relocating it to a balding area. It is most commonly used to treat hair loss on the scalp.
The procedure is performed as follows:
- Strip removal: Your surgeon will first remove a large strip of healthy skin and hair from the back or sides of your scalp.
- Strip separation: Once the large strip of hair and skin is removed, it is cut into smaller strips.
- Graft separation: These smaller strips are then further separated into small groups called “follicular units” or “grafts”. These units/grafts are made up of skin that contains around two hair follicles each.
- Graft insertion: Once the grafts are ready, the surgeon will make tiny cuts in the balding area and place the grafts inside these cuts.
After all the grafts are put in place, your surgeon will close the wound left behind when they removed the large strip at the start. They may use dissolvable or non-dissolvable stitches to close this wound.
Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE)
Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE), also called a Follicular Transfer (FT), is a procedure that involves the removal and relocation of individual hairs. This procedure is also most commonly performed on the scalp but can be used to treat other parts of the body as well.
The procedure is performed as follows:
- Hair preparation: firstly, the treatment area is shaved. A device called a “punch tool” is then used to prepare the individual hairs that will be removed.
- Individual hair removal: the individual hairs are then removed, one by one.
- Hair selection: from the hairs that have been removed, the bests ones are chosen to be used for the transplant.
- Individual hair insertion: Once the surgeon has selected the hairs they want to use, they will make tiny cuts in the balding area and insert these hairs into the cuts.
How many grafts need to be transplanted?
The total number of grafts required for full hair restoration depends on:
- How large the treatment area is.
- The total number of transplant sessions that would be required.
The total number of grafts that are usually required for full hair restoration can range from 1400 to 6400 follicular unit grafts.
FUT vs FUE
The main difference between FUT and FUE is the way in which the hair follicles are taken from the donor area. There are some other differences between the two procedures, such as:
- Scarring: FUE does not require stitches and leaves hidden scars at the donor site, whereas FUT will leave a fine scar at the donor site.
- Control of outcome: FUE involves the removal of individual hairs and therefore allows the surgeon to only select hairs that have the best chance of growth.
- Shaving: FUE requires shaving of the entire head before surgery, whereas with FUT, only the strip area that will be removed needs to be trimmed,
Your surgeon will discuss which surgical method is the best option for you.
What will my final scar look like?
This leaves behind very small “dotted” scars, as shown below. The scars will be present in both the donor and recipient sites but can easily be concealed by neighbouring hair after it grows back.
The FUT procedure will leave behind a single linear scar at the donor site, as shown below. This scar will fade over time but may be visible if the hair is cut very short.
Where on the body can I get a hair transplant?
There are a number of different areas where a hair transplant can be performed. These include:
Most surgeons use the FUE technique to perform these procedures.
Hair Transplant Consultation
Your hair transplant consultation will be the first time that you will meet your surgeon. It can usually last anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour. During this consultation, you will get to know your surgeon and also have the opportunity to:
- Discuss your worries and experience with hair loss
- Discuss why you want to have a hair transplant
- Get a better understanding of the procedure.
Once you have had a chance to talk about these points, your surgeon will examine the areas that you are concerned about (e.g. your scalp) and will ask some specific questions such as:
- How is your current general health?
- Do you have any medical conditions?
- Are you currently taking any medications? (this includes prescription, over-the-counter and herbal medications)
- Have you had any major operations in the past?
- Have you had any other surgery done to the area that has lost hair?
- Do you currently drink alcohol, smoke or use recreational drugs?
- Do you have any allergies?
You should answer the questions that your surgeon asks you honestly, as this will help ensure your safety should you decide to go ahead with the surgery. Being open and honest with your surgeon throughout your consultation will also help them recommend the most suitable treatment option for you.
What questions should I ask during my hair transplant consultation?
Your consultation is the best time for you to ask any questions you may have about your surgery. It is a good idea to spend some time thinking of what you would like to ask before you see your surgeon. Make sure you write these questions down and take them with you so that you do not forget to ask the things that are most important to you.
Below are some examples of questions you could ask your surgeon:
- Is hair transplant surgery the best option for me?
- Will I be in pain afterwards?
- Is the surgery always a success?
- Where will my scars be located?
- How long will it take before the new hair begins to grow?
- Will I lose my hair again in the future?
- Is what I want to achieve realistic?
Preparing for your treatment
How do I Prepare for a Hair Transplant?
Ensuring you are well prepared for your surgery can reduce the risk of complications occurring and help you during your recovery.
Before you have your operation, your surgeon will give you specific instructions on how best to prepare for your hair transplant. It is vital you follow these instructions to ensure your safety and smooth recovery.
Speak to your GP
As a number of medical conditions can cause hair loss, it is important that you speak to your GP before you go in for a consultation with a hair specialist. Your GP will examine you and run any necessary tests to ensure that the hair loss cannot be treated medically first.
Your surgeon will tell you how you should prepare your hair before treatment.
They may ask that you do not cut your hair for a certain period of time before the treatment so that you have enough hair to be used for the transplant. They may also ask you to massage your treatment area leading up to the procedure to help soften the skin.
General preparation tips
Some general tips that may be useful for your preparation include:
We appreciate that getting on top of housework can sometimes be difficult, even on a normal day! You might therefore want to get some of the big jobs out of the way before your surgery. For example, you may like to do the laundry, take the bins out and do a big grocery shop on the day before your procedure. Hopefully, this will relieve any stress you may have about doing chores on the first few days of your recovery.
For the first few days following your procedure, you should try to wear clothing that fastens from the front or the back, rather than clothing that has to be pulled over your head. This will help you avoid irritating and injuring your treatment area.
Your surgeon may also ask you to wear a headband after surgery. If you usually need to wear glasses, it might be a good idea to buy contact lenses that you can use until you can take this headband off.
Children & pets
You should try to take it easy for the first couple of days of your recovery. Therefore, you may like to ask your friends or family to help you look after any children or pets during this time.
For safety reasons, you will be unable to drive yourself home after your surgery. Therefore, it is important to arrange for a family member or friend to collect you from the clinic or hospital where you have your procedure.
Your surgeon might recommend that you eat healthy low-sodium foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, after surgery. You should try to stay hydrated with water and caffeine-free beverages. Try also to avoid consuming high amounts of salt and sugar during your recovery time.
Smoking, alcohol, drugs & diet
It is vital you follow all of the instructions your surgeon gives you on:
- Drinking alcohol
- Taking medications, vitamins and supplements
- Using recreational drugs
Smoking, in particular, reduces the amount of blood that reaches your treatment area, causing your wounds to take longer to heal, therefore increasing the risk of you developing an infection. Stopping smoking and using nicotine products can help reduce this risk. Most surgeons recommend that you do not smoke, vape or use any nicotine products for a minimum of 6 weeks to 3 months before and after surgery.
You should also try to maintain a healthy diet throughout your recovery to help your body heal itself.
Hair Transplant Aftercare
There are a number of different surgical methods that surgeons can use to perform a hair transplant. The recovery process can therefore differ depending on which of these methods your surgeon uses. In any case, however, it is incredibly important that you follow the specific instructions your surgeon gives you during your recovery. This will not only make sure that you recover safely but will also help you achieve better results.
The recovery process differs from patient to patient, but this hair transplant timeline can give you a general idea of what to expect:
How will I feel straight after surgery?
The area where you have had treatment is likely to feel tight, sore and swollen for the first few days. It can be quite common to feel some pain after the procedure, but your surgeon will prescribe some painkillers to help keep you comfortable.
Your surgeon will also place a bandage around the treatment area and give you specific instructions on how long you have to wear this for. This bandage helps reduce swelling and bruising, as well as helping to keep your transplanted hair in its place so that it doesn’t move.
If your surgeon uses a local anaesthetic for your treatment, you may feel that your treatment area is still numb or tingly for a few hours after the surgery. This feeling is temporary and should settle down within a few hours.
When can I go home?
Most patients are able to go back home the same day they have had their surgery.
If your surgeon used a sedative or a general anaesthetic, you might feel groggy or disorientated when you wake up. The effects of these medications can take up to 24 hours to wear off. This means that it will not be safe for you to drive, and you must ask a family member or friend to pick you up and take you home.
When can I go back to work and exercise?
Most patients can return to work fairly soon after their hair transplant. Usually, surgeons recommend that you return to work after about 3 to 7 days. However, this does depend on:
- Which surgical method your surgeon uses
- Your surgeon’s specific instructions
- What you do for work
If your role at work is more physically demanding than an office job, you may need to take more time off.
Your doctor may recommend that you take it easy before jumping back into sports and exercise. They may recommend that you avoid the following for the first 3 to 4 weeks after your procedure:
- Strenuous activity
- Heavy lifting
- Contact sports
Your surgeon may also advise that you refrain from sexual activity for around ten days.
You should ask your surgeon for specific timeframes of when you will be able to resume sports, exercise and sex.
When can I wash my hair again after my hair transplant?
Most surgeons recommend that you wait around two weeks before going back to your normal hair care routine.
You have to be very careful with how you handle your hair straight after having treatment. As mentioned before, the newly transplanted grafts of hair are not yet fixed in their place. You may therefore need to wait a few days before you can take your bandage off and wash your hair again. At first, you may be asked to only wash it gently by hand. Over time as the grafts become a bit more secure, you can work towards resuming your normal hair care routine.
Your surgeon may also give you a spray or lotion to apply to the treatment area after your operation.
You will need to go back to see your surgeon a few times are treatment.
The first follow-up appointment is usually made after one to two weeks and may be done with a nurse or your surgeon. During this appointment, your nurse or surgeon will check how well you are recovering, remove any non-dissolvable sutures and replace or remove your dressings.
Your surgeon is likely to schedule more follow-up appointments over the course of the next few weeks to ensure everything is healing correctly.
Hair transplant results
It is important to realise that it will take a long time before you see the final results of your hair transplant, so you will need to be patient. How dramatic the results are will also differ from patient to patient.
A few weeks after your surgery, you may notice that your “new” hair is beginning to fall out. This can be worrying as it may lead you to think that the hair transplant didn’t work. Try not to worry, though, because this is normal and almost always temporary. After around 3 to 6 months, you will begin to notice that new hair starts to grow in its place.
As hair takes a long time to grow, it’s usually only after 12 to 18 months before you can really begin to appreciate the final results of your treatment.
Hair Transplant FAQS
The average cost of a hair transplant in the UK can cost anywhere from £1,000 to £30,000. The price that you will be quoted depends on:
- Which surgeon you choose to go with
- Which city in the UK you are in
- Which hospital or clinic you have treatment in
- The specific hair transplant procedure you’re having
- The severity of your hair loss.
Cost per graft
The cost of your hair transplant may be calculated based on how many “grafts” you need for the transplant. A graft is an area of hair that includes around 1 to 4 hair follicles. The number of grafts needed differs for every patient but can range from 500 to 4,000 (some patients may need more, and some patients may need less).